Gunmen seized control of the central Malian village of Boni on Friday, after a sustained attack that forced the few troops stationed there to retreat, a witness told Reuters.
“The armed men descended on the town shooting in every direction,” Ali Dicko, a resident of Boni, said by telephone, adding they had surrounded a building in which a youth group was meeting.
The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It was not clear to which group the armed men were affiliated. Armed groups have proliferated in Mali since Islamists took advantage of an ethnic Tuareg uprising in 2012 to seize the north of the desert country.
A French-led intervention drove them back a year later, but instability has continued ever since, and it has spread this year, with multiple flare ups across the north and centre of the country undermining a fragile U.N.-backed peace process.
Dicko said the gunmen were speaking Bambara, Mali’s lingua franca, and Peul.
This year, violence that was largely confined to the north has spread towards the centre of Mali, only a few hundred miles from the capital Bamako.
Islamist militants killed 17 Malian soldiers and wounded 35 when they attacked an army base in the central Malian town of Nampala in July. Islamist group Ansar Dine and a Peul ethnic militia both claimed responsibility for that attack.